Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Kiliminjaro Airport to Arusha, late at night careening along in Seppo's Land Rover. The mountains a faint outline to the north, right hand drive, folks walking along the road. Seppo points out Mount Kiliminjaro, a faint smudge in the dark. Climbing out of one gully we swerved around an unlit tanker truck crawling up the hill, later a dalla dalla being pushed through some settlement in the oncoming lane no lights there either. And then, a room, a bed and I'm asleep.

Morning. I want to go outside to photograph the trees in the early light, but the door is padlocked... I hear Roni and join him watching cartoons from South Africa and who knows where else. Seppo takes me downtown, we spend the better part of the day gathering materials and arranging. Three bicycles, a sewing machine, food and unfortunately no roofing material. The trailer is too small for the 140 units of folded woven palm thatch.

I'm amazed by the burdens folks are hauling around. How ironic I think as I contemplate my own.

While I'm waiting for Seppo and Costa the builder to return with the bicycles the parking lady asks me to buy her lunch, flirting and engaging me in as much conversation as she has in English. I try my limited Swahili, making myself understood is challenging, the phrase book just doesn't cut it. All around me Masai men in their “blanket/shawl/robes are walking by individually and in groups talking on cell phones. On their feet everything from tire sandals to oxfords with socks. A fellow at the store/cafe across from me has a small hammer and is banging away at stuff onto a large rock while his friends/clients/cronies, look on.

The road is paved for the first 2 hours. “Lonely” looking Masai standing watching their animals, cattle mostly and goats with an occasional donkey. Sometimes small children are standing sentinel. I wave and most wave back. All across the horizon I see their round mud homes in compounds, some deteriorating rapidly although it is hard to say....... some have bundles of grass likely for thatching the roofs resting upright like stooks of hay.

Seppo points out some bee hives logs suspended from the bigger trees. I see baskets, mats, round and square hanging from trees at the side of the road when the pavement peters out in to a construction zone. We crisscross the immanent highway dodging trucks, potholes and splashing through enormous silty washes from the recent rain. Then suddenly there is pavement again. At Babita we get bites and beer with some fertilizer thrown in the back as requested by someone in the village. Now the road is no longer paved, red, dusty, narrow and rough. We pass through farms, small settlements and mostly foot traffic, bananas and maize in the fields, mangoes and sugar cane for sale beside the road in little piles.

Up and over a small mountain where isolated cyclists pass men standing by the road watching goats or mostly us roaring past till we turn left at Kolo and spy the camp on the ridge below.

Elke is glad to see us! There is chicken in the cob oven and some sisters waiting, to checkout her husband.

The watchman arrives, husband and brother-in-law to these sisters who walk back down the hill to the village of Kondoya. He wanders off to listen to the radio and we sit by the fire drinking beer and making jokes about Canadian campfires.

Elke has the executive suite, a wall tent, twin beds pushed together. In the morning I fail to get up for the magnificent sunrise over the Masai plain,

After coffee and a little breakfast we head down with trailer in tow, unload bicycles, sewing machine fertilizer and tools. The women are very happy to see Elke's husband and do a welcoming dance which Elke joins in on. Then it is time to work and mix plaster for the store they have built. Old men come up to me and begin speaking Swahili, suddenly I am at a loss for words.......all around mostly men and children are staring at me (should I be taking this personally?) I get up on the scaffolding with a tarp to make shade so it dries slowly.

I experience Ugali for the first time, remembering to only eat with my right hand. Attempt to help putting sewing machine and bicycles back together. I sit with the women as they prepare the food on three rock fires whilst speaking to someone on their cell phones. They are all dressed in bright fabrics, swathed in layers of colour. Quite a visual feast. I am introduced to some formidable matriarchs. And I begin to take pictures as Elke creates a sign with two colours of plaster, I wordlessly ask if it might be ok... and am presented with poses, hamming up children when I show them the pictures on the screen. They want more, and an almost endless stream of family portraits and individual head shots begins.

We are only there for two days, obviously I have to come back, I don't get to see the rock art or the now dry river, the incredible rain, the amazing sunsets and the growth after the rain. I did get to see a monkey at the side of the road, a very large tortoise a strange unidentified bird and numerous lizards.

When it is time to leave the women all sit together in the shade and Elke expresses appreciation, asking what it was they have come away with. The women are very grateful and empowered and tells us so, insisting we return, wanting to know when.

Later we deliver the school supplies to one of the teachers, he gives us a short tour of the school buildings, no glass, just bars like most buildings here. We take some of the mandatory pictures to record the event. Empty rooms with benches to sit on and benches to work at, some government issue posters on the doors warning against aids. They did have a small garden area in the courtyard between buildings that was swaled to slow down the water, the soil is very sandy.

It is quite something (for me anyway) to see Mangoes and Papayas growing everywhere. As we left camp the next morning after packing everything away we drove a different route through even smaller villages along an even rougher track where the inhabitants were frequently cutting down the trees for whatever reasons. It was unfortunate to my mind, limiting their shade, reducing the ground water and opening up the land to greater erosion. It seemed like a step back in time as we cruised bumping and pitching past men in their jeballahs, children and mothers staring with undisguised wonder.

Seppo was watching for a road and when it appeared he wondered out loud if we would make it, by now too far in to turn back! It was rough like a streambed and then over broken rock up and up over the mountain through wild looking forest and seemingly isolated we saw folks trekking along and a gaggle of children who hid in the bush then ran away laughing, I think.

Emerging at the the top it was back down through the bananas and maize along the rough red road to Babita where once again we stopped for beers and bites. The lake there has hippos in it, but it seemed appropriate to continue on rather than go looking and not finding. Elke and Sean were soon asleep in the back as Seppo roared forward through the Chinese construction zone (guys standing around in hard hats telling the locals what to do) and back onto the pavement. And then we were back in Arusha at the Masai Italian cafe for more beer.

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